The fiercest battles being fought are sometimes the ones you can’t see

by David Stone, Chief Executive of MRL Consulting Group

Emotional wellbeing at work.

I’ve always tried to look after my staff – investing in training, good remuneration packages, career plans, pension plans, private health (inc spouse & kids!), free fresh fruit, holi-birthdays, flexi-time, generous holiday allowance – lots of nice things – it’s important to me.

But I was never so good at the emotional wellbeing side of the health coin. To be honest, I’ve never been known as being the most empathetic or sympathetic of people. My wife has often said that the ‘empathy gene’ is missing from my character. I am, after all, the person who once told a colleague to ‘man up and grow a chin’ when he had been signed off with depression & stress (OK, I’m not proud of it, but it did happen. We’re good now).

But then, one day, a colleague had a terrible late stage miscarriage. She was devastated. And so was I. And I was stuck, too. How does one support a colleague through such a terrible event? I did the normal, obvious things – signed her off on full pay for as long as she needed – I went to Tesco and filled a trolly with enough groceries that she could feed her family and wouldn’t need to leave the house for 2 weeks – we sent flowers and cards filled with messages of love and support. But I was still stuck. These gestures were mere sticking plasters over a gaping wound. What more could we do as a company to properly support employees when they struggled, when they were fighting private, deeply personal and painful internal battles.

And it was around this time that I met a wonderful guy named Rob Cave. He was a lecturer on a course I was on at Cranfield and also moderated our group activities. We clicked immediately and I got to know him well. One of his areas of passion was mental health & wellbeing at work. He had the innovative idea of encouraging every company in the UK to offer emotional support services to employees and had set up a Not For Profit business to provide this. He called it The Mind Clinic. It was still at formation stage but I agreed that MRL would be client #1. Not quite a guinea pig – the service concept was thorough – but we’d trial and test drive the service and see how it went.

More than 2 years later it’s still going strong and a highly valued addition to our benefits package. Once a month Simon Parke visits our offices and takes a private meeting room on the top floor. Employees confidentially book appointments via an online portal and quietly slip away from their desks to spend 1 – 1.5 hours with Simon – no questions asked by management. What they discuss is private. Totally private. I’m told, in very general terms, that most people’s problems stem from issues outside of work. They just need a forum to air them, to vent, to cry, to rage. To talk.

I get no insight as to these problems. But what I do get is this – a happier, healthier and emotionally stronger workforce. The service is free to staff, confidential and non-judgemental. I have colleagues who know that I care about their wellbeing and that there are channels available to support them in times of need.

Which is good.

Everybody needs help, sometimes. And sometimes they just don’t know who to turn to or where to get it.

My people do – The Mind Clinic.

Oh, and I’m totally over the ‘stiff upper lip – grow a chin’ mindset. Maybe, just maybe, I’m on my way to developing a very small empathy gene……

David Stone, Chief Executive of MRL Consulting Group

(Footnote – my colleague who suffered the miscarriage went on to have a beautiful baby boy, returned to work and is the happiest I have ever seen her. Maybe, just sometimes, we really can all live happily ever after.)